Friday, 26 August 2011

Interview: Tom Evans of Exceed Possibility - Adventure Writing, News & Reviews

Tom, I'm jealous. At just 21 your list of adventures is already more extensive than many would hope to achieve in a lifetime!

You've recently returned from America where you spent one month Stand Up Paddleboarding the Mississippi with Dave Cornthwaite's source to sea expedition. Having never been on a stand up paddle board before, you returned having paddled 1,120 miles and with a World Record under your belt! I'm exhausted just thinking about it.

Can you sum up the expedition for us in 3 words?
  • Eye-opening, incredible, unforgettable 

... Does eye-opening count as 1 word?! 
How about your lowest low and your highest high? I bet there were a few of each!
  • I had a few lowest moments, none were terrible but I was pretty miserable at times! At night the temperatures barely dropped from the high 40's they sometimes were during the day, this made sleeping in a tent, often filled with mosquitoes, extremely miserable; some nights you'd lie in a pool of sweat with buzzing around your ear and very little chance of sleep! The few times Dave and I argued were also low points, they didn't stay bad for long as we always quickly made up! 
  • One of the high points has to be the final day arriving in Memphis. We were joined by 20 odd local paddlers for the last 20 miles in to the city, we had small planes playing about over head, a TV helicopter come flying over Vietnam style, four News crews, a police escort and a lot of fun! My second favourite moment has to be the day we broke the World Record for the furthest paddled in a day on a Stand Up Paddleboard; 77.2 miles in 13 hours and 55 minutes - quite a day as we finished well after dark with head torches blazing!

Lets rewind a few years, what was your childhood ambition? Have you always loved adventure?
  • I wasn't a child that long ago so I can remember very well luckily! From the age of 6 I wanted to Captain the England cricket team, something I won't be doing but I've always had an obsession for cricket, perhaps more than adventure - I played to a good level as a boy/teenager and still play regularly today! Adventure has always been another feature; the army was always a realistic option for a career path (and still is after university, maybe) and I grew up walking in the Lake District and Wales (where my father proudly traces our family, being an Evans!). My gap year really kick started my life in adventure as I randomly decided to cycle the Coast to Coast solo before flying off to Africa for four months, where I climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro, and later travelled to Thailand and Cambodia before starting university a month later. Everest has been a love of mine since I was a boy; Dad proudly telling me that he went to the same school as the great Sandy Irvine; Everest and Mallory & Irvine are topics I pride myself on knowing a hell of a lot about, I'll climb Everest some day!

Can you name one of your heroes/mentors?
  • One is hard to pin down in terms of heroes; I have cricketing heroes and adventurous heroes but I'll leave the cricket out here, don't worry! Mallory and Irvine, along with Scott and Shackleton, were great British men I'd love to use as inspiration for my career in adventure, they really define the greatest period in Britons history! More modern names such as Chris Bonnington and Ranulph Fiennes offer great inspiration too. Historical heroes include Nelson and Wellington, William Wilberforce and Martin Luther King - they all changed the face of the world, musically I love everything to do with Bob Marley!
  • Mentors-wise I'm lucky enough to be working closely with Adventurer Dave Cornthwaite; he's taught me a lot, particularly while we were on the Mississippi, and will hopefully continue to do so!

Who has the most influence on your life?
  • Myself; I definitely make my own decisions (rightly or wrongly) but other than that I'm very close with my family and am lucky to have a handful of extremely close friends who I'd always listen to!

What event in the past, or future, would you most like to witness/experience in person?
  • I'd have loved to have been on the 1924 Everest expedition, if Mallory and Irvine had survived that is! I'd like to be around when Fossil fuel supplies run out so I can say 'I told you so' to my friends!

Where would you most like to travel that you haven't yet been to?
  • I've been lucky enough to have travelled to 28 countries on 5 continents so far; the obvious answer would be the two remaining continents of South America and Antarctica - Antarctica being a place I'd do absolutely anything to reach. 

What do you miss most when you are away?
  • Mum's cooking and food in general!

And lastly, what is top of your list for your next birthday??! ...friends and family take note ;)
  • As ever the latest outdoor gear would be great - I'm starting to get a lot for free now though!

Tom, thank you so much for your time and sharing with us!
If you would like to read more about Tom's adventures and keep up to date with future plans, check out:

Monday, 22 August 2011

Crag of the Week

Three Cliffs Bay, Gower, South Wales

This stunning South Facing, easy-angled limestone slab is another great location to introduce your friends and clients to outdoor and lead climbing.

As a Mum, it's also proved an ideal location for trying to get a few climbs in with friends, whilst also being a safe beach for my daughter to play on... before the tide comes in!

As with my previous Crag of the Week, Tryfan Fach, the majority of routes here are Diff, with a lone E4 6c (The Steal) chucked in between a few popular VS routes - Arch Slab, Under Milk Wood and Scavenger, which due to its popularity is becoming a bit polished but is well protected. There seems to be a love/hate relationship with Under Milk Wood which involves a tight squeeze through a 'cave' at the top to break through to daylight and top out. Enjoyment of this route seems dependant on your size! The E4 seems to be very under climbed, probably due to the lack of any other highly graded routes to tackle whilst your there!

When working here with children or clients, there is a great Mod/scramble up to above the arch which offers a great abseil experience for the kids. Another fun opportunity for those who you feel capable of completing it, while getting to practise your MIC skills, is to lead your group on a confidence rope over the 'pinnacles' seen above that give Three Cliffs it's name.

There is various places to park at the top on the cliffs (some charge) and it's a pleasant 15 min walk in. Be sure to check the tide times before heading down!

This is about a child friendly as crags come, with a gorgeous stretch of sand to play on, and extensive rock pools and little coves to explore. There is also the remains of Pennard Castle within walking distance.

So whether you are looking for a family holiday location where you can also indulge your hobby, or whether you are looking for new crags to take your clients to - Three Cliffs Bay is well worth your time.

Review: Berghaus Chogori Gore-tex Jacket, Womens

I would love for this to be a review of a new Gore-tex Active Shell or Polartec Neoshell jacket, but alas, I am yet to own one...! In the mean time...

Berghaus Chogori Gore-tex Jacket, Womens

This jacket is quickly becoming my new best friend, especially considering the weather we've had here this summer...

Before purchasing this jacket I was a proud owner of the simple but effective Rab eVent Jet Jacket which served me well, from long days multi-pitching in North Wales, to windy days down the beach and wet days in town. 

In my new jacket I was looking for 3 main things:
  • Durable - working and playing in the outdoors I wanted something that was going to stand the test of time, despite rigorous use
  • Breathable - a must for all of us outdoor bods who regularly do stuff that gets us sweaty!
  • Design - an obvious one yes, but a good womens cut is a must for me, which is something Rab consistently do well. And colour - my previous jacket was black and, while ok for town, I was looking for something that would stand out on the hill or crag.
With these things in mind, I spent a good few weeks searching online and on the high street for something that ticked all my boxes while being something I could realistically afford on my student budget.

I eventually narrowed it down to two choices: the Rab Latok and what you see before you, the Berghaus Chogori

So what were the deciding factors?

Well, one major problem was finding a retailer that stocked the Womens Latok in my size (a common UK 12) and colour preference. While I found the Latok Alpine to be easily available, this higher spec jacket was more of a challenge. 

The other deciding factor was the tough choice between eVent and Gore-tex.
While I find eVent to offer exactly what they say on the tin ("let the sweat out") in terms of massively effective breathable clothing, I have also found Gore-tex to offer remarkable durability - I know someone who is still rocking a 10yr old gore-tex jacket with little sign of wear and tear despite it's extensive travels.

Finally, not wanting to spend more than £200, the Berghaus Chogori Gore-tex womens jacket, on offer from LD Mountain Centre (excellent service from these guys), met all my criteria.

So what do I like about my new jacket?
  • It came in at a reasonable £160.99... leaving me some change to blow on more climbing gear!
  • It's in my favourite colour (purple!) and pink, and while not very subtle, this is exactly what a wanted - something obvious to spot when I eventually get lost on the mountain for the first time (... naah, that's not going to happen with my shit hot nav...!).
  • The cut is good for my lady curves...! Allowing enough space for a layering system underneath and giving me freedom of movement, whilst not being too bulky under my climbing harness.
  • The Gore-tex feels really tough, and while only time will tell, it's coped well so far with a few scrambles over barnacle laden rocks on the beach, and such like.
  • I have been able to wear this over just a sports vest on wet evening runs, and not break into a sweat, which is saying something considering how my body usually reacts to running. The pit-zips were great for this.
The Berghaus Chogori is part of their EXTREM range, with Pro-Shell Gore-tex. Other nice features that in my eyes are worth a mention: the helmet compatible hood and the primaloft collar to keep your neck warm - so lovely.

That, my friends, means it ticked all the boxes.

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Crag of the Week

Tryfan Fach (Little Tryfan), Gwynedd, North Wales

'Base Camp' - can think of worse views to wake up to. 

Instructors take note! This crag is an absolute gem for introducing groups and individuals to outdoor and lead trad climbing. Just as I was myself.

My very first time here started in the campsite situated at the base of Tryfan, just a short walk from the crag. We arrived in the middle of the night with the temperatures dipping to -10 C. (You can also park at this campsite for a small charge, even if not camping).

Being a wintery January morning we climbed in gloves and B2/B3's. This was a first for me, so I was glad the crag was full to bursting with low grade routes for me to attempt my first lead in such 'cumbersome' climbing gear.

On arriving at the crag, you are greeted with a wonderful sweep of Rhyolite (a common volcanic rock), and usually other climbers. It's amenable angled face is littered with lovely cracks, great holds and an abundance of gear placement. Along with its easy 10min walk in from the car park, it's no wonder this location is so popular. The crag boasts over 20 climbs, graded from Moderate to VS 4c, but the majority here are graded at Diff.

My first lead - Crack 2 (Diff). Freezing Fun
Featured in the Rockfax Top 50 North Wales climb is Little Tryfan Arete - a grade 3 scramble/Moderate climb which can be completed in 1 or 2 pitches.

Please be aware, if you are climbing at VD/Severe or above this really won't float your boat. Don't waste your time and make your way to the abundance of other crags North Wales has to offer - more of which I will feature soon - including Milestone Buttress, just around the corner from this crag.

But if you are new to this climbing malarky, have never climbed outside before, or never had a taste of lead trad climbing - grab yourself someone who knows what they are doing and make it happen.

Friday, 12 August 2011

Goals and Gold

Everything was against us at work yesterday. It was windy, raining, the river levels were low and the tides were wrong. Sometimes, days just throw you two fingers.

What did we do? Not a lot. What did I get from it? Quite a lot.

Some days give you gold.

I am in a privileged position. New to this outdoor industry, I am blessed to be surrounded by seasoned professionals who are constant sources of encouragement and inspiration. I am lucky to be learning from the best. I am working with people who I not only look up to and respect, but also feel 'alongside', individuals who are quickly becoming friends as well as colleagues. I want to always surround myself with people that will help me better myself. And likewise I want to continually learn how to become one of those people myself.

It's incredible to think of all the mammoth changes that have taken place in such a short period.

This time last year I was busy being a stay at home Mama to Ffion. Playing outdoors and getting her and I out on the mountains when we could. But that was about the extent of my 'adventurous activities' at that time. I had never climbed before, aside from mucking about as a young child at Harrisons Rocks in the South East of England, while my older brother climbed.

Now I practically live, breathe, even eat climbing... literally. This past year I have become more aware of my eating habits, and having already lost a stone, I am aiming to lose another, as well as continually improving my fitness levels and strength. I try and keep up to date with stories and developments in the climbing world, as well as reading and learning and being inspired by climbers from the past, with their first ascents of now seminal routes.

But most importantly, as mentioned above, I try and surround myself with inspirational individuals.

So what leaps do I hope to have made by this time next year?

Primarily, I want to just get out and climb as much as is possible when you're a single mum, studying full time as well! With experience will come improvements.

I have also applied for a job at the outdoor centres I have been working at, which I will have an interview for in September. This is a massive opportunity for me to be able to continue my professional, and personal, development.
I want to work with the type of people that, despite the wind and the rain, the low water levels, and awkward tide times, I can still come away from the day feeling like I have gained from the conversations that were had, the experiences that were shared and the inspiration that was passed on.

So when days throw you the two fingers, throw them right back at it...

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Review: Evolv Womens Elektra VTR climbing shoe

A comfortable yet sensitive, eco-friendly shoe

Being a relatively new climber - comfort was hugely important to me when buying my first pair of climbing shoes, but I also wanted something that wouldn't let me down on performance. After trying out a few, these shoes have turned out to offer me exactly that.

Bouldering in the Evolv Elektras

They are sticky - especially good for smearing, and the sensitivty is great too - even in the toes where they feature their VTR (Variable Thickness Rand) technology. This sounds pretty cool right? It basically means that the rand of the Elektra is more durable in the high wear zones and reduces toe bulge whilst maintaining the toe box structure. This manufacuring process has the added bonus of reducing waste materials. Happy Days.

An added bonus for me was the shoes eco-credentials. Read more here.

These shoes have accompanied me bouldering in the peaks, training on the wall, sea-cliff climbing in Pembs, and long days multi-pitching in North Wales. Having now climbed a little longer and gradually pushing harder grades, I still wouldn't object to buying these again.

Which I may have to do soon with the smell that is coming from the boot of my car...

Post climb

My other half climbs in Boreal Spider's - see what he thinks here.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Crag of the Week

Craig Caerfai, Pembrokeshire, Wales

Caerfai Bay, Pembrokeshire, Wales

As climbing locations go, this isn't too shabby.

Caerfai Bay is located by St. Davids in Pembrokeshire. The bay has a south-facing beach, surrounded by cliffs so is an utter suntrap. There is limited parking above the bay, and the crag is located on the East side of the bay, reached by following the coastal path south east for five minutes, to a sharp left hand bend near the bay's entrance. There is then an abseil or scramble down.

The crag is slabby sandstone (hard), tidal and currently has 26 trad climbs listed - graded Diff to E4 6a. It is fair to say some of the routes are a little overgraded, but there is a great variety there, within a small location, for climbers of moderate to good ability to work on.

Not putting enough gear in, White Wall (HS 4b)
It is also home to 'Armorican' - an HVS 5a that has been downgraded to a VS 4c - and is listed as one of the UK's Top 100 VS routes, is in the Rockfax Pembroke Top 50 and also known as one of the best UK slab climbs. Either judge the tides correctly or set up a hanging belay!

Armorican (VS 4c)
Rhydian and I visited a few weeks ago, and were blessed with utterly glorious weather and enjoyed a swim out to the small island after a great days climbing.

If you live in the UK and love climbing, and haven't visited Pembrokeshire.... WHY NOT?
There are literally thousands of climbs at 136 crags in an utterly gorgeous location. Buy a guide book, find a local to take you out, hell... just get yourself there and climb.

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Review: Black Diamond - Half Dome climbing helmet

A classic, multi-use helmet for men or women

I've tried a lot of helmets both in personal and professional climbing environments and it took me a long time to settle on which to buy. I was very tempted by the 'weightlessness' of new style EPS helmets, however being "one-hit wonders", I felt the durability and longevity of this helmet won over weight, for me personally. Perhaps on longer expeditions where weight is key I will decide otherwise! But for its current use, in both personal climbing, and while instructing groups, this classic helmet fits the bill.

The helmet is easily adjustable and comfortable. I have found it keeps my head near completely dry on wet days, but also offers discreet venting for hot days. 

I nearly bought the pony-tail friendly Petzl, and while that is both a pretty and practical helmet for women, I can fit my pony-tail neatly between the back of the helmet and the adjustment strap.

The Black Diamond Half Dome is available from many good outdoor retailers - both online and on the high street. CE and UIAA-certified.